Asana released its Inbox feature recently, and the technology blogs have gone crazy about how its definitely going to kill/slay/end email and all the frustration and heartburn associated with using email.
We wonder why would anyone want to kill email, and even if they did, how exactly would they do that. For a large number of workers today, Email is not just something that facilitates work, Email IS work. Think of people doing Sales, Support, Recruitment and many such functions. We thought when everyone is baying for Email’s blood, we’ll go against the tide and see if there’s really any sense in trying to kill email.
Why email is Awesome!
Email is simple, flexible, quick, asynchronous and ubiquitous. Thats quite a lot of adjectives, so lets go over them one by one:
Simple: Write, Send, Browse your Inbox, Search your inbox. It really has just these four key actions which are extremely intuitive as they directly map into actions we do in the ‘offline world’.
Flexible: Since its so simple, its actually a generic communication tool that can be used to communicate about anything.
Quick: Sending a note to someone is just 3 to 4 very quick actions.
Asynchronous: This is a killer. I can send an email to someone when I want, and they can respond when they want to. An email never caught anyone off-guard!
Ubiquitous: You have an internet connection on any kind of device, and you have email. The experience might vary on different devices, but the “degenerate case” is always a fairly useful one.
Thats quite a lot of Awesome! But yet, almost everyone who works with email complains about it.
Why do we love to hate Email?
When something is so open, flexible, quick and completely devoid of ‘workflow’, its also prone to a lot of abuse and misuse.
Here are some top problems people face with email:
Inbox clutter: A lot of people who receive an email because they were part of a large CC list have no immediate use for the email, and the reason the sender chose to include them was because she wanted to make sure ‘everyone was in the loop’. This causes tonnes of email clutter.
Disorganized inboxes: Email lacks automatic filing – what that means is, when you are talking about a project or a customer, there is no way all conversations that have the same context can be clubbed and filed together.
Inboxes are silos: There’s tonnes of useful stuff in inboxes that is not visible to others. That always leads to mad scrambles to “send me that file” or “forward to me that email”.
Thats a formidable list. But does it need a new set of tools to solve these. Really, whats missing in email is a bit of “Workflow” and content organization/filing. With those, the problems of clutter, information loss and inbox disorganization can all be solved.
What Email needs to keep ruling
A Cure for Clutter: Really, why should you have to CC 25 people on an email if you want just 3 of them to read it right away. Why can’t you file it somewhere without cluttering the inboxes of those 23 people, from where they can find it later if they need it.
Shared Email Organization: What if when I sent an email to a colleague about a project or a customer, it could be filed automatically with a corresponding label, or in a corresponding folder. When I assign a task to someone, it again gets filed under a folder called “My Tasks”.
Cross Inbox Discovery: What if I could go beyond my personal inbox to find information that is relevant to me.
What most collaboration tools do today is solve the problems we have by email by introducing a completely new tool. But whats better?
Email+Some Additions, or a new tool altogether?
Its wrong to argue the case for tools like Asana vs. email by drawing parallels with the shift from snail-mail to email. The shift in the former is nowhere close to that in the latter. Collaboration tools really are going ahead of themselves by claiming to slay email. Something that slays email will have to bring in a paradigm shift in how we communicate, in terms of the medium or the style of communication. We don’t see collaboration tools doing that.
Every collaboration tool is actually a new tool that offers Email like messaging with some additions. The case for them becomes very weak if people can accomplish even 70% of what they can accomplish with collaboration tools from email, because (a) they are used to email (b) email is really really simple.
We hope startups continue to deliver simple but profound add-ons on top of email, that helps people do more and be more organized while retaining the simplicity of communication that Email offers. At GrexIt, that is precisely what we’re doing.